Song of Songs was thought to be a story of gods and goddesses as would have been reflective in Mesopotamia. It was even thought to have been written by a woman. But scholarship authority now tends to accept that it was probably written in honor of wedding celebrations. Word play is one of the characterizations of poetic tools as work in the Song. I wonder though how we can appreciate this through an english translation. Believe me, I read plenty of translated poetry and I’m cognizant of what’s lost. Psalms is poetic and I’m not this critical of that. In other Old Testament readings I haven’t felt like the message is lost on me because the text has been translated, because the content comes through. But I’m inclined to think the true beauty of this “love” poetry is based on the words originally put together. Frankly, it doesn’t tell me anything about love or eros. It conveys innocence, attraction, desire, sweetness, all very real pieces of love. But to call it erotic love poetry is over glorifying what I read. Is this type of poetry embraced today because we think people back then were incapable of the depth of erotic love experienced today? I should make a confession here. I have been studying Plato on love for nearly a year and still have more to learn. 2500 years ago Plato wrote about love being a vehicle for the lover to bring out the beautiful in the beloved. It’s a process of acsension requiring two people to achieve something together. Of course it’s more complicated than that, but as a comparison to this chapter of the Old Testament, it just shows how shallow the Song is if it’s purpose is to convey anything substantial about love.
So, what is left? Its position in the Old Testament, why is it there? What is it’s significance? It’s not even a love story, it’s more like a love vignette. I have become a real Marc Brettler fan during this course. His guidance through the Old Testament is scholarly and tempered. Even he questions calling the Song “erotic poetry.” I’ll try to redeem myself from my frothy rants by agreeing with Brettler in that maybe the Songs have a place because of their depiction of sexuality in a positive, simple and pure light. It is certainly an interesting juxtaposition to the Catholic Church especially in what Brettler refers to as it being pre-marital. Regardless of when the sex is occuring in the relationship, the Songs depicts real humanness in a positive and easy light. It makes very human experiences okay. Even those in the throes of the beginnings of their first loves can identify with these experiences. This has been something I have enjoyed finding in the Old Testament, ways that the readings mirror human experience. Being able to identify with religious texts is a sure way to bring followers in, identification makes people feel like they are where they are supposed to be, like they belong.
However, I’m just astounded that anyone who has read more than Hallmark greeting cards could get all hot and bothered over Song of Songs. I mean really, antelope? Nice imagery. It sounds like something out of 17th century Romanticism, sweet and syrupy, but not L O V E.
If you like Song of Songs, try some John Donne here http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/donne/palatine.php